By Etheline Desir | Desir Group | LeadershipBrief.com
Having spent 28 years recruiting, assessing talent and advising candidates and clients, I am always saddened by young, aspiring leaders who make it to mid-level positions, but cannot seem to scale the ladder into the senior leadership sphere. From my observations, I have concluded that while the culture of some organizations presents a glass ceiling, often the responsibility lies on the young executive who has not captured the essence of emotional intelligence and, consequently, lacks the soft skills to understand and play the game at a higher level.
A strong work ethic and a stellar resume with a list of accomplishments are very critical to success and advancement, but equally important in today’s global environment are the less tangible, soft skills and personal attributes that assist in transitioning into senior leadership. At the senior level, success is attributed to a high degree of passion and vision, the ability to be introspective, effective communication, and influencing and inspiring others to drive your vision.
To be truly successful requires a combination of technical and soft skills. Problem solving, delegating, motivating, and team building are all much easier with soft skills. I have been mentoring a young leader whose early career was based, ostensibly, on her technical abilities to get the job done, and therefore had false expectations of the trajectory of her future career. She did not have champions, advocates or mentors at her most recent organization nor external networks within ACHE, NAHSE, or AHA, and found herself without a job after a restructuring. Sadly, she lacked self-awareness and blamed others for her hardship in securing another position, rather than embracing the advice being given of the importance to develop and demonstrate critical soft skills such as empathy and political astuteness.
The only security that is attainable in fast-changing environments is the security offered by broad-based skill sets, great adaptability, a voracious appetite for new learning and a keenly developed set of ‘soft skills’, communication, collaboration, and self-management.
Regrettably, there is far less training provided for soft skills than hard skills, despite their importance. For some reason, organizations seem to expect their leaders to know how to behave on the job and think that eloquence, poise, self awareness, and even etiquette should be a part of one’s formal education—but too often that is not the case! For the most part, people are trained on ethics, metrics, quality, creativity, efficiency, as well as driving for results, and much less emphasis on interpersonal and relationship-building skills.
According to a survey by Adecco, reported on CNBC, today’s executives are much more concerned with the lack of soft skills – such as communication, adaptation, creativity, and more – as opposed to the lack of technical skills in the new workforce. For leaders, honing soft skills is of even greater importance. To quote writer Charles Hugh Smith, in an article about how the world of work has changed, “The only security that is attainable in fast-changing environments is the security offered by broad-based skill sets, great adaptability, a voracious appetite for new learning and a keenly developed set of ‘soft skills’, communication, collaboration, self-management, etc.”
Are you considered approachable by most people in your organization? Do you understand the difference between the corporate and subcultures? Are you politically savvy and know the influencers in your organization? Do you demonstrate a great deal of passion for your job? It is critical to understand that no matter how “smart” or technically proficient you are, your soft skills are more likely what will enable you to truly utilize your knowledge and amplify your technical skills as you advance to, and perform at the higher levels of leadership.
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